I’ll Be Home for Christmas is a collection of short stories by UK YA authors, raising awareness of homelessness, as well as cash for Crisis, the national homelessness charity; £1 from the sale of every copy will go to the charity. Aside from having laudable and excellent intentions, the anthology is a really good read, with not one dud amongst the stories collected.
The stories here can be broadly divided into two categories; the ones that cover ‘standard’ YA fare like relationships, parental divorce and friendships, and those which take a more imaginative approach to the theme of ‘home,’ like Marcus Sedgwick’s wonderful If Only In My Dreams, which is set in space, and Julie Mayhew’s fairy tale-esque story of a young girl with an over-protective father. Homelessness, obviously, is a key theme, with Benjamin Zephaniah, Kevin Brooks and Lisa Williamson approaching the topic from different, but equally affecting perspectives.
There are authors here whose work I already admire, like Williamson and Holly Bourne, and some with whose work I was previously unfamiliar, like Sita Brahmachari and Tom Becker. Others, like Zephaniah, are authors whose previous writing hasn’t really engaged me, but his poem, Home and Away, opens the collection and is superb, deftly using simple language to tell a powerful story. I really enjoyed Non Pratt’s story, Ghosts of Christmas Past, in which a teenage boy and his mum have to live with his nan after his parents’ divorce. It’s sweet and touching without being sickly, and it made me want to read more by Pratt.
The strongest contributions here, for me, were those by Sedgwick, Becker and Brahmachari; Claws, Becker’s spooky Christmas story about a cursed village had me intrigued and terrified, while Amir and George, Brahmachari’s tale of an orphaned refugee trying to take part in a public speaking contest, was perfectly pitched and had me wanting to give hugs to fictional characters. Melvin Burgess’ story, When Daddy Comes Home, predictably, was the strangest, told from the perspective of the deranged son of a disgraced Prime Minister; the fact that this was sandwiched between Christmas, Take Two, Katy Cannon’s story of a teen’s first Christmas with her new step-family and Julie Mayhew’s dreamlike story of ogres and towers, The Bluebird, really shows the strength and diversity of the collection. Each story here is distinct and unique, following the themes of style of the writer’s other work but clearly different from everything else in the book.
I read an eARC of I’ll Be Home for Christmas but I’ll definitely be buying a paperback when it comes out; even as I read, I was thinking of ways to use the stories at school and I know I’ll want to read them again. The collection has definitely given me some new authors to look up.